In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

Piketty’s Revolution

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice

The ScribesAlistair Elliot
Close
Close

More and more often, knowing that you’re dying,
I think of the letter-writers at the post office
in that hot square, with their low desks and dip-pens
waiting in the shade of their municipal trees
for the illiterate victims of time and distance –
the dealers in words, renewing or untying.

Whenever I passed them I would think of paying
to have my raw wish wrapped in the empty nets
of their professional calligraphy,
the well-rubbed language of a thousand nights,
and always hesitated (‘how could she
know what these frightening loops and spikes were saying?’).

I should have paid, and risked your sitting crying
in your own post office, half-wanting to laugh
at this incomprehensible world of effort.
But how could I foresee our separate lives? –
and the need for something kept from the fire, a comfort
framed on the wall, a cause of shrugs and smiling,

diploma from another way of lying:
those syllables, formed by someone with the tip
of his tongue just showing, would say I love you (formal),
I love you (intimate) over your throne-of-sleep –
where you no longer        (verb used only by female)
between the Indian coverlet and the domes of silence.

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